Before we look at some of the more popular blogging platform choices for bloggers, it helps to think about the essential criteria you may want to consider as you look at all the possibilities.
Some blogging services are relatively simple: create an account and start posting! Others require a little more technical know-how. For example, to set up some platforms, you’ll need to purchase hosting (a service where your blog “lives”) and then install the software on your hosted server.
(It’s not as difficult as it may sound. Many hosting providers have services to help you get up and running.)
Despite how easy or challenging setup is, it is even more important to look at how easy it is to get a post up, change essential visual elements, add images, etc. Set up is a one-time hurdle, but you don’t want the tool to be so challenging to use that you hesitate to publish anything.
The potential problem with some free blogging platforms is that you don’t always “own” the content you publish. If the platform suddenly decides to change the rules on you. You will be giving up control over what happens with your posts and who sees them.
Also important is whether you can migrate all your content to another platform, should you decide to change later.
Like control, you may want to ask how much you can customize the platform. Do you want to quickly change colors, themes, layouts, fonts, and other graphic elements? Are there features or elements you’d like to be able to add or hide?
Customization includes the use of plugins or add-on tools that expand and personalize the tool itself, both for your readers and for you, as the admin. You are left with whatever features the platform already includes without these options.
Some blogging platforms allow integration with third-party apps and services. These may include “carts” for selling products directly from your blog, connections to audio and video services, and social media sharing tools.
Probably the most significant app is the email service provider you plan to use (ex. MailChimp, ConvertKit, Aweber, etc.) To make it seamless for the reader to read your post, sign up for your newsletter or a free pdf. You also want to make it easy to set this up each time.
Some blogging platforms are free (though you lose features and options with most of these), and others cost a monthly or annual fee. Look carefully at what you get for your investment. If there are different service levels, pick the one that fits your needs the best.
If your goal (right away or later) is to make money from your blog, look at whether you can sell products or display advertising or affiliate links. Some free platforms won’t let you do this, which will make monetization difficult later on.
As you look for the best blogging platform for you, there is no shortage of options. Here are just a few of the more popular tools bloggers use.
One of the most popular blogging platforms, WordPress is an open-source blog site creator with many features, including flexibility and support—both my Blogging Your Passion blog and jonathanmilligan.com blog run on WordPress hosting.
It’s important to know that WordPress has two versions: wordpress.com and wordpress.org.
WordPress.com is a free version that WordPress itself hosts. It’s essentially a free plan to blog online. It is easy to get started with this version, but it has significant limitations. You can not add plugins (one of the most powerful benefits of using a WordPress blog.)
There is much less customization, the analytics are basic, and you are subject to their rules. You also cannot run ads on the .com version, though they will run ads on your site (sorry, you don’t get a share of this!)
WordPress.org often referred to as “the real WordPress” or self-hosted WordPress, is the better way to go if you ever want to do anything serious with your blog. There is a bit of a learning curve with WordPress when you are first getting started. But here’s how to get started.
You will need to purchase a hosting package through a site like Bluehost or HostGator. Then, you install WordPress onto this host. Fortunately, many hosting services offer easy ways to do this setup if you aren’t a techie.
You’ll have to pay an annual fee for hosting, as well as a domain name, but WordPress itself is still free. Doing it this way opens up all sorts of powerful features and flexibility.
With self-hosted WordPress, you can access free themes and plugins that integrate with hundreds of other apps.
To see all the differences between the free and self-hosted versions, check out WP Beginners’ post comparing the two.
Blogger is Google’s version of a free blog platform, and it’s been around for a while.
Unlike many free blog site tools, Blogger allows you to display Google Adsense ads on your blog. It also lets you use Google Analytics to see what kind of engagement and page views your posts are getting.
The free domain that comes with the account is your blog name followed by .blogspot.com, so it’s a less professional look. There is no “premium” option with Blogger to upgrade features or customize design. As a result, many blogs built with Blogger have a similar, recognizable look.
One advantage to Blogger is its ease of integration with all things Google. As you can imagine, it’s easy to bring in pictures from Google Photos, for example.
Also, in the completely free category, Medium lets you create an online magazine. You can include a biography that shows at the end of every article, and it’s very easy to connect with other writers on Medium. Medium also allows you to easily embed content from other third-party sources, like YouTube or Instagram.
As for creating a complete blog, you can’t make any static pages (like a landing page, for example). That being said, Medium is a terrific platform for attracting your ideal audience. But it works best in conjunction with your self-hosted blog.
Tumblr is a popular space for bloggers who are big on visual content. More of a social media platform than a blogging site, Tumblr has a younger user base.
Tumblr’s strength is in the ability to connect with other creators and easily share and promote each other’s content. Many Tumblr users post just as much in images and videos as in text. You can pay a little more to purchase your domain name, too.
Among its limitations, though, Tumblr allows for minimal customization of features or design. This makes it difficult to make money from the content itself. Like most free platforms, you don’t own the content, and it’s a tedious manual process to back up and migrate what you’ve created to another platform.
Wix is an easy-to-use website builder, but you can also run a blog on it. Building a site is drag-and-drop and quick to learn, and you have many visual elements to choose from. There is a free version, but it’s relatively limited, so you’ll need to upgrade to get better features.
You can build an online store, though you’ll pay more for the eCommerce features (business plans start at $23/month.) While there are some third-party integrations, there are not as many as WordPress and others. You can also migrate content to a new host if you decide to switch later.
Squarespace is another popular web hosting service because it’s easy to use and friendly for beginners. While it’s made to create a full website, you can easily use it for blogging. Like Wix and others, you don’t need to know how to code to create a beautiful online presence with Squarespace.
The personal plan starts at $12/month and covers hosting and a domain name. You’ll need to pay for a business plan (starting at $18/month) to get additional features that allow you more customization and the ability to sell products on your site.
Weebly is probably one of the easiest drag-and-drop website building platforms in the same family as Wix and Squarespace. You can easily create a blog alongside your static pages, too.
Weebly has a free version, but to get a custom domain and remove the Weebly branding, plans start at $12/month. To get full eCommerce features to sell your products and services, they offer a business plan starting at $25/month.
A nice feature in the paid versions of this blogging tool is Weebly Promote, which allows you to capture the email addresses of your visitors. You can create great-looking emails and newsletters to send to your subscribers right from within your Weebly dashboard.
While Promote lets you segment your subscribers, it doesn’t have all the features of better stand-alone email service providers (like ConvertKit, MailChimp, or Aweber.) Still, it’s pretty slick to have the email function built into the blog platform itself.
If you start with Weebly, you may quickly run into limitations since it doesn’t offer much in the way of plugins or add-ons, and you can’t do much customizing of your own. Fortunately, migrating content from Weebly into a WordPress site is relatively easy.
Like WordPress, Ghost is an open-source blogging platform that does one thing well: blogging. It is clean and fast and offers live blog post previews to see what your post will look like as you are writing it. Ghost also includes some search engine optimization and social media tools built-in.
Like WordPress, Ghost requires you to purchase hosting and a domain name, but the software itself is entirely free. Setup will need some tech know-how, so it’s not a great choice unless you are willing to do some work.
Fortunately, Ghost also offers some done-for-you setup and hosting with monthly plans starting at $29/month. You get the blog, storage, a domain name, and a certain amount of page views each month. Prices go up for more storage and page views.
If you know you want to blog and sell courses, memberships, or other products, you may want to consider Kajabi. As a blogger, you can run a blog, create static web pages, and get analytics on how your blog is doing.
Kajabi will also let you capture email addresses and send out emails to your list. You can even tag subscribers like you can in ConvertKit, Aweber, or other popular email service providers.
You will also be able to build “pipelines,” or sales funnels, that lead to your products and courses. Kajabi allows you to make complete membership sites as well as community forums. Payment processing is included in the platform, too, as are many third-party integrations.
As you can guess, the monthly investment for all these features around your blog is not cheap, with plans starting at $149/month. And beginners may not be ready for all that Kajabi lets you do.
However, if you know this is the direction you want to go with your blog and business, (and you don’t want to pay for a whole bunch of other tools separately,) it may be worth starting right away with a more powerful tool like Kajabi.
The most important feature of a blogging platform
As you consider these nine blogging platforms, you can see that they each offer a different variety of features, pros, and drawbacks. So what is the most important feature?
Ask yourself: Which platform will meet my needs for where I want my blog to be in the future?
Think ahead a year or two. Which platform will meet your needs when you have some content up and get some traffic. What do you think you’ll need then?
Are you okay with just having a hobby blog? Do you plan to sell online courses, services, or a membership site? What features and add-ons will you probably want as your business grows?
Ultimately, it’s up to you, your skill set, your budget, and your willingness to do work on the back-end of your blog.
So, which blogging platform will you use?
Jonathan Milligan is the author of Your Message Matters: How to Rise Above the Noise and Get Paid for What You Know.